Django Unchained: Reviewed

Anyone who’s caught sight of Quentin Tarantino recently can’t fail to have noticed just how weird he looks these days. I mean, he was never a heartbreaker but even in geeky film lover circles, he’s gotta be turning heads for the wrong reasons.
I mention this because as Django Unchained draws to its conclusion, up pops QT in his compulsory cameo, and he sticks out like a sore thumb. Appearance aside, his turn as a mining company employee is so woeful that if he wasn’t the director, he’d have cut himself out completely. And to think, he was actually pretty good in From Dusk Til Dawn.
Thankfully though, after a number of recent directorial misfires, his film-making has returned to form in a way his acting and personal grooming hasn’t. While by no means perfect, Django Unchained has a number of the hallmarks of classic Tarantino: snappy, memorable dialogue; gruesome, comic book villains; and more blood and guts violence than you shake a sawn-off shotgun at. It’s Tarantino doing what he does best, and obviously enjoying himself in the process.
Set in 1858 in deep south America, it’s the story of Django (Jamie Foxx playing it straight), a black slave freed by the eccentric Dentist-cum-Bounty Hunter Dr King Schultz, deliciously played by Christoph Waltz. These two team up to wreak havoc on small town America’s ne’er-do-wells with Django quickly discovering his talent for murdering white folk who deserve it.
The film hits the ground running with two bloodthirsty killings in the first scene and paves the way for a hugely entertaining first act – as the unlikely pair get to know what makes each other tick. It’s a dark comic masterpiece, peaking with a hilarious scene as a group of Klu Klax Clanners chase the gruesome twosome following a triple assassination only to come unstuck because they can’t see properly through the eye-holes in their hoods.
But as winter draws to a close, so does their killing spree and Schultz vows to help Django find his estranged slave wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a mis-hearing of the name "Brünnhilde" given by her German masters. They track her down to Candieland in Mississippi, where silver spoon racist Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) has her as a ‘comfort’ girl.
It’s here that the film loses its way a little, not the fault of any of the actors (Di Caprio and Samuel L Jackson as Stevens, the ultimate Uncle Tom, both impress), instead it’s the director’s overindulgence creates a loss of momentum. The relationship between Django and Broomhilda never clicks, a number of the later scenes are overlong slowing the pace down to a stroll, and put simply, the film should end 20 minutes before it does. But that’s not say it’s still not enjoyable; Waltz puts in one of those performances where you just warm up inside every time he’s on screen and anyone who saw Foxx on Jonathon Ross last week will testify that the guy simply oozes cool.
Sure the violence is excessive, and at times it feels like Tarantino is going for a world record on uses of the ‘N’ word – but let’s be honest – you don’t walk into a Tarantino movie expecting Mr Darcy to walk slowly out of a lake do you?
In truth, this lacks the impact and neatness of Reservoir Dogs and as good as it is, the script can’t match the heights of Pulp Fiction. But I suspect time will tell us that this is Tarantino’s next best effort, certainly up there with Kill Bill. And that, 10 years on, is good enough for me.
Phil Turner

In it
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz

Behind it
Quentin Tarantino


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